Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey to end in May


Steven Judge, Cartoonist & Copy Editor

    On January 15, Kenneth Feld, CEO of the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus, announced that the 146-year-old show would be shutting down once and for all in May. For many, this news was heartbreaking, although some see this as a positive move. Regardless of your stance, it is undeniable that this is the end of an era.

    People of all ages have memories of childhood trips to the circus. The peanuts, the clowns and, perhaps most famously, the elephants. In May of 2016, a full year before the date of their announced closing, Ringling Bros. retired its 11 remaining elephants for humanitarian reasons, completing a year-long process. According to Feld, “following the transition of the elephants off the road, [the circus] saw an even more dramatic drop,” referring to their already-declining ticket sales. The removal of elephants, it seems, was the final nail in the Ringling Bros. coffin.

    Crowds are dramatically split in reaction to the announcement. Many, notably those who urged the circus to cease the use of elephants, are rejoicing: aside from the elephants, the circus works with, and allegedly mistreats, other animals including tigers, donkeys and kangaroos. To them, the end of Ringling Bros. marks a huge leap in animal rights. Shortly after the announcement, animal rights group PETA suggested that “all other animal circuses… follow suit,” noting that “this is a sign of changing times”. Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society,  stated, “I applaud their decision to move away from an institution grounded on inherently inhumane wild animal acts.”

    Others, though, see the closing as a tragic loss. Countless people, myself included, have fond childhood memories of the wonderment that was the circus. I first went to the circus as a baby, and have seen the show countless times since then. I acknowledge that, if not for the nostalgia factor, I would likely be among the cheering masses, but because the circus is something so deeply ingrained in my childhood, it is only natural that this news saddens me. While I understand and empathize with the stance of those in support of the end of Ringling Bros., I can’t help but feel that I have lost a dear friend.

    The closing of the circus, however, does not mean the end of everything: Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros., will continue to operate the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida, where a number of their former acts currently reside. The 200-acre reserve, founded 21 years ago, is not open to tours and has a small staff of only about 20. The sole focus of the facility is to study the elephants and ensure that the endangered species continues to reproduce. If anything, this center is proof that, regardless of whether the circus itself was cruel or abusive, the company is, all in all, on the side of the animals, and at their side it seems they’ll stay. As Kenneth Feld said in 2015, shortly after announcing the elephants’ planned retirement, “The good news is: the elephants aren’t gone. They’re here”. Likewise, while the show may be over, it will live on in the form of the conservation center, as well as in our memories and our hearts.